DUBLIN, Ohio — If you’d like to truly understand Joaquin Niemann, stop caring about the golf.
We get Joaquin Niemann, the golfer. He’s one of the sport’s most promising young stars — a modern mix of both precision and power. He nabbed his first professional win at age 20, a six-stroke pronouncement at the now-defunct Greenbrier, and has recorded four top 10s in each of the last four PGA Tour seasons.
Niemann enters this week’s Memorial Tournament quietly having a career year. He’s already racked up his customary four top 10s and has added 10 top-25 finishes to boot, his best to date, and it’s only June. He ranks 12th on Tour in strokes gained, and in the top 40 of all but one strokes gained category (that pesky short game).
But to understand the true value of the accolades above is to understand the sheer improbability of Chile — a tiny, coastal country of only 18 million in which golf is an afterthought for most — producing them. Niemann isn’t just a nascent star and PGA Tour mainstay, he’s a national hero. He’s one of only 10 professional golfers ever from Chile, and the only golfer of Chilean descent to win a PGA Tour event.
It’s difficult to fathom, given the quantity of golf that exists in much of the world, that a nation with only 50 golf courses and an estimated 16,000 players has produced one of the 30 best in the world. And now Niemann is set to find himself competing for a gold medal in Tokyo in July.
“For me it’s a pretty big deal,” Niemann told GOLF.com on Wednesday, at this week’s Memorial Tournament. “There are not many media outlets in Chile, and being able to play for a gold medal would be awesome, and would be an honor for my country, because we don’t have many gold medals.”
Chile has two gold medals, to be exact, and only 13 medals overall, in 40 Olympic appearances. By virtue of his recent success, Niemann might represent his country’s best chance of medalling for the first time in a dozen years.
“I played golf for many years and won tournaments and it was always my dream to represent my country,” said Niemann, whose native flag is stitched onto his golf bag. “Now that we have the Olympics for golf, it’s obviously an extra thing. We never grew up thinking about the Olympics. We were golfers, and there wasn’t any [competition]. Now that we actually do have it, it’s amazing.”
Niemann’s tone, you might notice, is starkly different from that of other top players, some of whom have bowed out of Olympic competition on account of travel and scheduling difficulties, or Covid-related concerns. While others have voiced support for representing their country or competing for an Olympic medal, few pros, if any, will enter Tokyo with the pressure Niemann faces on behalf of Chile.
And yet he welcomes the challenge that awaits him in Tokyo. The pressure will be no different from what he plays with every week, and the reward might be enough to shift his standing from national hero to national legend — all before his 23rd birthday.
So it’s okay if you don’t care about Olympic golf, because Niemann knows 18 million Chileans who do.
“For many other guys here, it’s probably not a big deal, but for me it is,” Niemann said. “We’re a small country, and we don’t have as much an opportunity as other big countries have. To be covered by all those international outlets, to be part of history, to be in the Olympics and win a medal for my country would be awesome.”